New Orleans, Louisiana — Hundreds of Christians are gathering in New Orleans, Louisiana as today marks the beginning of the popular five-day notoriously wild Cajun French celebration known as Mardi Gras. However, the Christians that have come to the city for the event state that they are not there to party like most, but rather to go out on the streets and love the lost just like Jesus did.
Pastor Troy Bohn of RAVEN Ministries (Restoring a Vision and Evangelizing Nations) in New Orleans told Christian News Network that 2013 marks the 18th year that he has been sharing the Gospel during the event. He explained that Mardi Gras, being French for “Fat Tuesday,” is a Catholic-instituted holiday that leads into Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.
“Here in the city of New Orleans, they’ve just really embraced it,” Bohn said. “A couple million visitors come into the city during the four weeks of carnival season, and the hub of all the activity is in the French Quarter. You’ll have a couple hundred thousand people at a time pack Bourbon Street and tens of thousands of other folks gathered for parades and the festivities associated with [the holiday].”
He explained that Mardi Gras is marked by a variety of parades, a bit of religiosity and a lot of debauchery.
“All of the parades are dedicated to some type of deity. And so, you’ve got all these Greek gods that are associated with the parades,” Bohn outlined. “On Bourbon Street, basically, women are rewarded with beads for exposing themselves, and they’ll throw them off the balconies. One of the other things they’ll do is they’ll throw balloons off the floats as well. This is a reward for the people.”
After the crowds indulge themselves in five days of public reveling, many then attend Catholic mass to seek forgiveness for their sins.
“The same people that are in the French Quarter partying on Tuesday,” Bohn explained, “they’ll be the ones at St. Louis Cathedral on Wednesday getting ashes rubbed on their head.”
When he was first presented with the idea of evangelizing during Mardi Gras in the 1990’s as a pastor in Amarillo, Texas, Bohn said he initially wondered why he would go to such a place. However, he stated that when he obeyed the Lord and went, it was as if God gave him new eyes and transformed the way that he saw people.
“I remember the first night crossing Decatur Street and Matthew 9 came alive,” he recalled. “It says that Jesus looked on the multitudes and was moved with compassion on them.”
“Prior to that point, I was pastoring in an inner city church doing [work in the] community, but it was still easy for me to walk into a crowded shopping mall and not be moved with compassion. It was easy for me to walk into a crowded restaurant and be more concerned with my meal than the 100 people sitting there and whether or not they were going to Heaven,” Bohn shared candidly. “So, it was like something got stripped off my eyes and I saw those multitudes from His vantage point. The motto I adopted from that point was, ‘When you see it like Jesus saw it, you’ll do it like Jesus did it.'”
As Bohn has continued to share his faith during Mardi Gras throughout the years, he has watched his group grow from just a few dozen to several hundred people. This year, over 400 Christians from across the country will be joining Bohn and RAVEN Ministries to conduct outreach in the French Quarter.
In addition to sharing the Gospel on the streets, Bohn is hosting training sessions during the day, which feature various speakers and ministers, to help prepare those present to learn to see the masses as Jesus did.
“One of the biggest things that you have to overcome is the reputation that the city has,” he stated. “People forget that they’re just coming to speak to people. … We’re not out here for 200,000 people. We’re out here for one person at a time. [Jesus] left the 99 and went to the one, and there is more rejoicing in Heaven over that one lost sinner. And so, we try to get people to focus on one person at a time.”
Bohn explained that he urges Christians to understand that those that are lost in sin are indeed people — someone’s daughter or son, sister or brother, mother or father.
“[I tell them], ‘That’s somebody that somewhere somebody else is praying for them. And if its not somebody in their family, it’s that one Mediator that’s constantly interceding for us — Jesus Christ — and we’re an answer to somebody’s prayer,'” he said. “So, just go out with the mentality that you’re the answer to prayer, even if it’s just Jesus’ prayer, and we’re going to share the Good News with them.”
In addition to street outreach, Bohn states that he plans on taking the team into a housing project on Monday to help them further connect with the people and their families.
“I want people to see that Mardi Gras is more than just a bunch of folks coming in to party,” he said. “There are actually people that live in the city that love God, that have children, [and] that may be struggling with poverty or just the environment, or whatever it may be.”
When asked if he could share one of his favorite memories from years past, Bohn was quick to answer. He joyfully recounted an experience that occurred four years ago as he gathered on the street with 300 Christians from across the country.
“We felt that the Lord impressed on our heart to take the group and march up St. Peter’s Street all the way to Bourbon and kneel in that intersection and just pray,” Bohn explained. “And so, we went four wide and however many deep, and we slowly walked from Jackson Square … to Bourbon Street singing ‘Hallelujah.'”
“You could see it slowly changing the environment,” he continued. “We packed those people into the intersection and we all just knelt down. It was almost like deafening silence because the people were suddenly stupified by what they were seeing.”
Bohn said that even the police were a bit speechless and weren’t sure what to do.
“It was like everything got silent and the spirit of God fell on that intersection, and so rather than people throwing stuff at the people praying, it was like they stopped and their mouths were wide open. They were blown away by what was happening,” he remembered. “And so, we prayed for about 15 minutes on our knees right in there in the middle of the street, surrounded by tens of thousands of people. And when we rose up and began to witness, everything changed. For the next three and a half hours, there were people weeping and coming to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Bohn said that during the same event, a 26-year old man who was born deaf gave his life to the Lord — but that wasn’t the end of the story.
“We had two girls on our team that spoke in sign language, and so they started talking to him,” he explained. “[Another man on our team] said, ‘Can I pray for you? I’m going to pray that God will touch you and open your ears.’ And he said, ‘Please do’ in sign language.”
“He began to pray for him and all of a sudden, the Holy Spirit fell on this young man and he doubled over and grabbed ahold of his head like he was covering his ears,” Bohn recounted. “He raised back up and he could hear! He had never heard anything until he suddenly heard the roar of that crowd.”
The next night, the man brought approximately a dozen relatives with him to see the Christians, and they also gave their lives to the Lord.
Bohn stated, however, that he doesn’t want Mardi Gras to serve as just a one-time outreach event, but would like those that visit the area to take what they have learned and use it in their own hometown throughout the year.
“For us, Mardi Gras is not just five days in February. It’s really an opportunity to ignite a vision in people to take that same message and the same passion back into their city,” he said. “We’ve found that if people can come here during Mardi Gras — the ultimate demonstration of debauchery — they can go home and think to themself, ‘If I can do that in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, I can do it in Raleigh, North Carolina, or I can do it in Springfield, Missouri — I can do it wherever I’m from.'”
Bohn and RAVEN Ministries minister on Bourbon Street each weekend and continually see God move in the lives of many in the city.